Alaska Board of Game scraps own accountability rules to allow shooting wolves from aircraft
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2006:
ANCHORAGE–Ten years after Alaskans banned hunting wolves
from aircraft by ballot initiative, 157 pilot/gunner teams are
shooting wolves from aircraft by authorization of the Alaska Division
of Wildlife Conservation and Board of Game–as hunters have every
winter since 2003/2004–and there is nothing that Friends of Animals
can do through the law to stop it, Alaska Superior Court Judge
Sharon Gleason ruled on January 31, 2006.
On January 17, 2006, three years after FoA sued seeking to
stop the airborne wolf hunt, Gleason ruled that the Board of Game
violated its own rules by failing to publish written justification
for it, including explanations of why alternatives to lethal control
such as wolf sterilization could not be used.
The 2006 airborne wolf hunt was suspended for two weeks after
only 24 wolves were killed, out of a quota of more than 500. The
quota exceeds the total of 445 wolves killed during the first three
winters of the program.
“This may be a clear indication that the state is inflating the
number of wolves in these areas, which we have suspected, as there
have been few if any surveys,” said Karen Deatherage, Alaska
representative for the Defenders of Wildlife.
“There are far fewer wolves than they thought,” said FoA president
On January 29, however, the Board of Game at an emergency
meeting “just flat-out repealed requirements for public notice and
input regarding wolf and bear control. It also repealed all
requirements and limitations that apply generally to wolf control,”
Gleason then denied an FoA petition for an injunction against
the action, which amounted to retroactively undoing the Board of
Game accountability procedures to allow wolf-strafing to resume.
The Board of Game is appointed by the Alaska governor.
Current Governor Frank Murkowski has favored airborne wolf hunting
throughout his political career.
Division of Wildlife Cons-ervation director Matt Robus
contends that the Alaska wolf population has risen since an
FoA-backed ballot initiative banned shooting wolves from the air in
Officially, Alaska now has 7,000 to 11,000 wolves. Official
estimates have agreed on a minimum of about 7,200 wolves surviving
each winter since 1991. The higher estimates appear to be based on
the numbers of wolves who go into each winter, including spring pups.
Hunters nonetheless blame wolves for regional scarcities of
caribou and moose. Predator populations rise and fall with the
abundance of prey, while prey populations tend to fluctuate mainly
due to habitat changes, such as global warming and maturing tree
canopy, which tends to grow beyond the reach of caribou and moose
within 20 to 30 years after tracts are logged.
Explosive growth of a predator population typically follows
either explosive growth of the prey base, as result of natural
factors that increase the carrying capacity of the habitat, or
because the predator population has been artificially thinned, so
that females are able to bear and nurse larger litters.
Board of Game member Ted Spraker of Soldotna argued at the
emergency meeting called in response to the January 17 ruling that
the number of wolves killed in most of the five target areas has more
than doubled during the past two years through use of aerial wolf
control. Statewide, the toll jumped from about 150 to 276.
“This clearly points out that even though trappers do the
best they can, and hunters do the best they can, it does take
aerial shooting to get the number of wolves stated in our
objectives,” Spraker said.
“Airplanes are the only thing that work,” agreed Wasilla
board member Cliff Judkins.
What Spraker and Judkins actually appeared to be describing,
however, is a phenomenon known to wildlife managers as “The more you
shoot, the more you get.”
The effect was documented among coyotes in Texas more than 50
years ago, as federal Animal Damage Control agents gradually
discovered that the females among the most heavily persecuted coyote
populations within a few years increased their average litter size
from four to seven.
Only if more than 70% of an animal population fails to
reproduce will the population drop. Aiming to reduce regional wolf
numbers by 40% to 90%, the Board of Game and Alaska Division of
Wildlife wolf-killing policies most often result in killing fewer
than 70%, allowing survivors to rebuild their populations quickly.
“For the first time ever,” added Feral, “Alaska is
allowing the sale of bear hides and skulls,” to augment the wolf
massacres by encouraging bear hunting in caribou and moose calving
areas, seeking to reduce another calf predator.
The 2005 wolf casualities included most of the Toklat pack,
long observed by visitors to Denali National Park. The alpha female
was trapped and shot on February 11, 2005, FoA wildlife biologist
Gordon Haber reported. A hunter escorted by a guide shot the alpha
male on April 17, 2005.
Studies of the Toklat pack were begun in the 1930s by Adolph Murie.
Haber had studied them since 1966.